COVID Amongst Conflict and Crisis: How Syria Continues to Crumble Under the Pandemic
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Battered and bruised from almost a decade of violent conflict, humanitarian crises, and economic hardships, Syria has arguably been hit harder than most states by the COVID-19 pandemic. In no shape to effectively respond to the coronavirus, Syria has done what it can to survive with what it has--but is that enough?
Beginning in 2011, with protests for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and his administration, Syria has been engulfed in a civil war. Air-strikes, bombings, and the use of chemical weapons have caused millions of deaths on both sides and have left many Syrians without homes or necessary infrastructure. Not only is Syria physically wounded, but the conflict has greatly impacted Syria’s economy; Eighty percent of the Syrian population--those that have not fled the country--are impoverished and struggle to provide for their families. In March, a ceasefire was agreed upon and it appears that President Bashar al-Assad has won the war. However, amongst the pandemic, there are no winners in Syria.
In response to the outbreak in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad instituted a lockdown and nightly curfew onto borders between provinces, schools, and restaurants. Once the economy took yet another turn for the worse, these restrictions were lifted. In May, despite a steadily rising number of COVID cases, businesses, mosques, and markets were allowed to reopen, and the curfews and travel bans between provinces were lifted. In September, schools were reopened as well. Despite these premature openings, the Syrian government has reported relatively low numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.
The Syrian healthcare system has severely suffered due to the civil war and, unfortunately, is unable to properly cater to those affected by the coronavirus. Many hospitals were destroyed by air-strikes and bombings, many doctors and healthcare workers were either injured or killed by the violence or fled the country to escape it, and medical supplies have become increasingly hard to come by as the economy has taken a downward spiral. Experts claim that this lack of capability--namely a lack of COVID testing--has caused the Syrian government to inaccurately report cases and deaths in Syria.
The Syrian government does not currently possess the ability to test all of its citizens, nor are many citizens willing to get tested. Hospitals do not have the necessary resources to deal with the infection rate of the pandemic; Hospitals beds are constantly full or waitlisted since many hospitals were destroyed in the war. Respiratory ventilators are extremely limited, and doctors have been dying from infection. Not only is the Syrian government unable to test and care for their citizens amidst the pandemic, the Syrian people refuse to seek testing and treatment due to strong governmental distrust. After years of conflict and violence at the hand of their own government, many Syrians have acquired a strong distrust for the government and government-run institutions which, unfortunately during a pandemic, includes hospitals.
As one anonymous doctor reported to Al Jazeera, the Syrian people “prefer to die than come to the hospital.” Current hospital conditions are factoring into the hesitance citizens are displaying, but economic reasons are citizens’ main concern. Most of the country is living below the poverty line, meaning that the daily wages those who have jobs receive are vital. Due to this reliance, citizens are not getting tested, admitting to sickness, or seeking out in-person medical advice for the fear of being quarantined and having to take time off from work. Those who do report to hospitals are typically near-death due to their prior resistance and little can be done to save them. Instead, many citizens have turned to Facebook groups and the internet for medical advice.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Syria also faces a failing healthcare system, an economic depression, and a distrusting population. The Syrian people have suffered countless atrocities, and it is uncertain if the country is stable enough to support the Syrian people through the pandemic. If the warnings of public health officials prove true and COVID-19 infection cases surge in the fall and winter of this year, how will Syria survive?